"...Baby, I'm from New York... Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, There's nothing you can't do, Now you're in New York..." -Alicia Keys.NFA vs. Middletown. Kingston vs. Minisink. Mix in the possibility of a Newburgh - Mount Vernon rematch in the NY State Quarterfinals at West Point's Chrystl Arena in mid-March. What a season it turned out to be photographically for me. Throughout the season, even a mere reference to any of these teams would elicit a wave of excitement from fans, players and even we in the media covering these kids. Names like McLeod, Henderson, Coffey, Castro, Dolson, Pooley and even Nick Smith at Middletown on the floor, just about guaranteed a night of first rate HS basketball. The high school basketball season that ended a few weeks ago was one of the most memorable I've ever photographed. Period. Probably just as exciting as covering Newburgh Free Academy's run to their first state title and of course Will Bouton's last-second, game winning heave from beyond mid-court to beat rival Mt. Vernon last season. (Click here to view the video the paper produced after that game and Bouton's miracle shot.) That all could've just as easily been 10 years ago now in news-cycle time. Besides, it was all about winning everything last year - so you almost became accustomed to the jubilation, high-5's and frenetic fans in all the gyms and arenas I'd worked then. Fast forward to this season for both the Kingston HS girls and NFA boys. Both were destined to have back-page headline stealing seasons. Kingston senior guard Rachel Coffey (right) deserves her own slide show here on the blog, as I can't conjure up enough adjectives to accurately describe her game. I think I read somewhere she picked up the nickname "Lady A.I.", after NBA guard Allen Iverson, replete with her own tattoos and all. She is easily one of the top 20 athletes at any level that I've photographed in my career and that alone is saying quite a lot. I've witnessed and photographed top ballplayers like Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, an even Elton Brand throughout his high school career over at Peekskill HS, his college days at Duke, and right into the NBA in his rookie year with the Chicago Bulls. In a simple comparison of pure athletic ability, talent and sheer hard work - Coffey is right up there with the best of the best. Knowing that this was going to be her last season in high school proved to be a sentimental year for me in photographing the Kingston Lady Tigers, as she and other teammates like Charlise Castro and Ariana Parker would also be graduating this Spring. On the boy's side of the hardwood if you will, state champion Newburgh Free Academy was touted not only by our sports writers but by other publications as a potential repeat state champion. So what did they do in the first weeks of the season? They landed standout guard Devon McMillan (left) as a transfer student from Uniondale HS on Long Island - whom NFA had defeated in the state tournament last year en route to their title. That move alone had the whole state literally talking about Newburgh basketball all season. It was all going to be some year for photographing basketball, particularly the big marquee games. Couldn't forget about the big girl over at Minisink Valley HS. Stefanie Dolson (at right) earned a full ride to UCONN, she was named a first-team McDonald's All American, and she was itching for another opportunity to knock off Kingston and Rachel Coffey in the sectional playoffs prior to the state tournament. Coffey had also accepted a scholarship to Syracuse - so who knows, maybe these two young ladies from the area will continue their rivalry on NCAA courts in the Big East.
For the better part of the last two seasons, the names Castro, Kell, Coffey, Parker, and Longto up in Kingston along with Henderson, Bouton, Cousar, McLeod, Johnson and transfer student McMillan here close to home at Newburgh Free Academy have meant something to me. Making images like these reinforces why I continually work as hard as I do - particularly in fully strobing gyms and utilizing remote cameras for those added extra camera angles, especially at the big games during the playoff tournaments.
*With apologies to Alicia Keys and her "Empire State of Mind (Part II) - Here's an edited look at my take on both the Kingston girls and NFA boys seasons - including their sectional playoffs and state tournament games (boys) up in Glens Falls, NY. ~cg.
*(Use the arrow at the bottom left of the player or click the image to start the slide show. Enable full screen viewing by clicking the 4-way arrow icon above the captions button at lower right of the player. Pause the portfolio slideshow in the right column by clicking the "II" pause button. Remember to turn up your volume.)